Friday, March 25, 2011

What Good is God?

One of my favorite authors is Philip Yancey. While I don't always agree with him, he always makes me think. It was not different in his book, What Good is God? In Search of A Faith That Matters. In this book he investigates some of the situations that have happened around the world that are hard to understand such as: Virginia Tech: Campus Massacre, China: Winds of Change, Green Lake: Professional Sex Workers, etc.I trust the quotes below will cause you to ponder the greatness of our God!

The sufferings of Jesus show us that pain comes to us not as punishment but rather as a testing ground for faith that transcends pain. In truth, pain redeemed impresses me more than pain removed. p. 31

Nothing irredeemable has happened or can happen to us on our way to our destiny in God's full world. Dallas Willard p. 31

"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us," Paul concludes. "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Terrible things will happen on this planet, yet we have access to a "peace that passes understanding" that can calm both heart and mind in the midst of tragedy. God's love is the foundational truth of the universe, and I pray that you do not let your grief obscure that fact. p. 32

From the book, Where is God When It Hurts? - I guess I'd have to answer that with another question, "Where is the church when it hurts?" p. 33

. . . God created the natural world, after all, and called it good. Furthermore, in the Old Testament God inspired sacred craftsmanship and a written revelation still regarded as a masterpiece. The New Testament shows more ambivalence toward culture, perhaps because early Christians lived under the shadow of cultured but pagan Rome. Lewis thought it necessary to put culture in its proper place. "The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman," he said, "become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly 'as to the Lord.'" The salvation of a single soul, he said elsewhere, is worth more than all the epics and tragedies ever written-quite an admission for a man who taught literature for a living. p. 105

As Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, indulging in pleasure apart from the Creator's intent can lead to a form of slavery. "An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure" is the devil's formula. p. 109

We must refuse, abandon, deny self altogether as a ruling, or determining, or originating element in us. It is to be no longer the regent of our action. We are no more to think"What should I like to do?" but "What would the Living One have me to do?" To answer that question becomes the central focus of a life of faith. ~C. S. Lewis p. 111

I do write honestly about my past, even though it may cause others pain. I would hope that readers call me down on my own inconsistencies and exaggerations and theological errors. I know of no more honest book than the Bible, which tells the ugly truth about its main protagonists (think Moses, David, Peter, Paul) as well as the church established to carry on the tradition (think of James, Galatians, and 1 Corinthians, as well as the letters to the seven churches in Revelation). In contrast, the Pharisees and their kin exhibit one persistent flaw: an inability to take criticism. People and institutions naturally want to present themselves in the best light and thus we rationalize or cover up mistakes. When we do so we move away from authenticity toward the very dangers Jesus warned against, in the process sealing off grace. p. 122

Church historian Mark Noll remarks that the song "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" plainly errs when it says, "And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace." No, the rest of the world grows clearer, not dimmer, in that light. God created the world of matter, set us down in its midst, and entered it in the Incarnation. The least we can do is appreciate it. Helen Keller gave good advice: "Use your eyes as if tomorrow you would be stricken blind; hear the music of voices, the song of a bird, as if you would be stricken deaf tomorrow." p. 129

For the Christian, living by strict rules becomes a danger when it quenches the spiritual life rather than expresses it. Do you rely on rules as a way to earn God's approval? Does a rule-based community set up a ranking system of higher and lower spirituality? Do rules distract you from weightier issues? Which do they foster, pride or humility? Do you nourish the inner life or merely whitewash the outer appearance? These are the questions Jesus raised about the Pharisees, in some of the strongest language he ever used. p. 132

D.L. Moody, asked whether he was filled with the Spirit, replied, "Yes. But I leak." p. 136

The last time I visited Rhema Church I told you about Joanna Flanders-Thomas, a remarkable woman who first worked against apartheid and then turned her attention to a local problem, the most violent prison in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela spent eight years of his confinement. Joanna started visiting prisoners daily, bringing them a simple gospel message of forgiveness and reconciliation. She organized a tiny ministry with the grand name The Centre for Hope and Transformation. The year before her visits began, the prison recorded 279 acts of violence; the next year there were two and the following year eight. Joanna's results attracted the attention of BBC producers, who sent a camera crew from London to film two one-hour documentaries on her work.

I told you how I met Joanna and her husband at a restaurant on the waterfront of Cape Town. "I've seen the BBC documentaries, but I still don't get it," I said. "These guys are monsters-rapists, murderers. And from what I could see you were simply holding Bible studies, playing trust games, having prayer meetings. What really happened o transform Pollsmoor Prison?" Joanna looked up and said, almost without thinking, "Well, oh course, Philip, God was already present in the prison, I just had to make Him visible."

Joanna's offhand comment became for me a mission statement of how to live as an Adult follower of Jesus. We know God's qualities: justice, righteousness, compassion, mercy, grace, love. For whatever reason, God has chosen to convey those qualities on earth through human beings like us. That can be a daunting task, I assure you, yet I have seen it accomplished through ordinary people here in South Africa. p. 163

Let me introduce the Parent stage by borrowing an object lesson from Dr. Paul Brand, a mentor of mine whose own life demonstrated the truth he was illustrating. In the middle of a talk in the stately chapel of Wheaton College in Illinois he reached in his pocket and pulled out a cluster of grapes. "Excuse me, I think I need a bit of refreshment," he said, and some in the audience tittered. He plucked a juicy red grape, popped it in his mouth, and chewed it with a smile of satisfaction. Suddenly his face wrinkled into a frown and he loudly spat out the seeds onto the plush carpet, startling the students. After the laughter died down, he went on to make a serious point.

Dr. Paul Brand read a text on the fruit of the Spirit as described by Paul in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. "These qualities are good for you in every way," he explained. "They are qualities of God, who wants to grow them inside you. Yet as someone who has raised fruit trees, I know that from the fruit's perspective the ultimate goal is reproduction. The fruit is attractive and beautiful so that a bird or perhaps a person will find that grape, or apple, or blackberry, pick it, and do just what I have done: deposit its seed on the ground. If we were meeting outside, rather than in this beautiful chapel, I could come back in ten years or so and find a grape vine growing as a result of my sermon illustration this morning."

I later walked in an orchard with Dr. Brand and heard him explain in more detail. "We think of fruit from our perspective, assuming its appeal is meant for our enjoyment. See this apple? It's colorful, delicious, fragrant. From the viewpoint of the apple, though, our enjoyment is mainly a way to produce more apples. Everything about the fruit is oriented toward reproduction. When it falls to the ground, it makes a slight dent in the soil, and it contains just enough meat to nourish the seeds inside. pp. 165-166

Recently I have been reading a historical study by Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity. A sociologist of religion, Stark investigated the success of the early Christian movement which, starting from a few thousand followers, grew to encompass half the population of the Roman Empire in three centuries. In the midst of a hostile environment, the Christians simply acted on their beliefs. Going against the majority culture, they treated slaves as human beings, often liberating them, and elevated women to positions of leadership. When an epidemic hit their towns, they stayed behind to nurse the sick. They refused to participate in such common practices as abortion and infanticide. They responded to persecution as martyrs, not as terrorists. And when Roman social networks disintegrated, the church stepped in. Even one of their pagan critics had to acknowledge that early Christians loved their neighbors "as if they were our own family." p. 214

People instinctively know the difference between something done with a profit motive and something done with a love motive.

Some in the United States judge our nation's success by such measures as gross national product, military might, and global dominance. The kingdom of God measures such things as care for the downtrodden and love for enemies. In the final reckoning described in Matthew 25, God will judge nations by how they treat the poor, the sick, the hungry, the alien, and the prisoner. pp. 214-215

On the last day, after a triumphant tour, the teenagers met Dr. J. Christy Wilson, a revered figure in Afghanistan. Born of missionary parents in Iran, he earned a degree from Princeton University and a PhD in Oriental Studies from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He then spent twenty-two years in Afghanistan, serving as principal of a government high school and teaching English to the Crown Prince and Afghan diplomats. He also led the Community Christian Church and founded the School for the Blind in Kabul.

Wilson drove the teenagers to an unusual tourist site, the only cemetery in Afghanistan where "infidels" could be buried. He walked to the first, ancient gravestone, pitted with age. "This man worked here thirty years, and translated the Bible into Afghan language," he said. "Not a single convert. And in this grave next to him lies the man who replaced him, along with his children who died here. He toiled for twenty-five years, and baptized the first Afghan Christian." As they strolled among the gravestones, he recounted the stories of early missionaries and their fates.

At the end of the row he stopped, turned, and looked the teenagers straight in the eye. "For thirty years, one man moved rocks. That's all he did, move rocks. Then came his replacement, who did nothing but dig furrows. There came another who planted seeds, and another watered. And now you kids-you kids-are bringing in the harvest." pp. 221-222

He (George, an A.A. member) said that in church if someone comes in late, people turn and look at the latecomer. Some scowl, some smile a self-satisfied smile-See, that person's not as responsible as I am. In A.A., though, if a person shows up late, the meeting comes to a halt and everyone jumps up to greet the latecomer, aware that the tardiness may be a sign that the addict almost didn't make it. As George put it, "When I show up late, it proves that my desperate need for them won out over my desperate need for alcohol." p. 236

. . . for an addiction is simply a form of idolatry, something that supplants God as the center of our lives. p. 237

There is a common saying in A.A.: "Religion is for people who believe in Hell. Spirituality is for people who have been there." p. 243

One could hardly find a better poster child for the oppressed than Bartimaeus. Like so many disabled and impoverished people here in India, he subsisted by begging. Blind, he had a few options in that day. To make matters worse, his very name in Hebrews meant "son of garbage" or "son of filth," so that everytime someone called his name it deepened the insult. Bartimaeus stands for the underclass all over the world, those who for whatever reason cannot live without outside help. p. 277

Of all the people healed by Jesus, Bartimaeus is the only one whose name the Gospels record. p. 278

. . . God has invested in us followers. We are the ones called to demonstrate a faith that matters to a watching world. p. 287

To order this book click here!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God

Francis Chan in his book, Crazy Love, challenges the reader to live a life that is crazy. A life an unbeliever would not understand, but a life that would show the world Christ's love. He suggests that we turn our lives upside-down for the Savior. Hope you enjoy the quotes below:

God is all-powerful. Colossians 1:16 tells us that everything was created for God: "For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him."

Don't we live instead as though God is created for us, to do our bidding, to bless us, and to take care of our loved ones?

Psalm 115:3 reveals, "Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him." Yet we keep on questioning Him: "Why did You make me with this body; instead of that one?" "Why are so many people dying of starvation ?" " Why are there so many planets with nothing living on them?" Why is my family so messed up?" "Why don't You make Yourself more obvious to the people who need You?"

The answer to each of these questions is simply this: because He's God. He has more of a right to ask us why so many people are starving. As much as we want God to explain Himself to us, His creation, we are in no place to demand that He give an account to us. p. 33

Turning inward is one way to respond; the other is to acknowledge our lack of control and reach out for God's help.

If life were stable, I'd never need God's help. Since it's not, I reach out for Him regularly. I am thankful for the unknowns and that I don't have control, because it makes me run to God. p. 45

It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel. It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity. p. 65

Lukewarm people tend to choose what is popular over what is right when they are in conflict. They desire to fit in both at church and outside of church; they care more about what people think of their actions (like church attendance and giving) than what God thinks of their hearts and lives. p. 69

Lukewarm people don't really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin. They don't genuinely hate sin and aren't truly sorry for it; they're merely sorry because God is going to punish them. Lukewarm people don't really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one. p. 70

Lukewarm people rarely share their faith with their neighbors, coworkers, or friends. They do not want to be rejected, nor do they want to make people uncomfortable by talking about private issues like religion. p. 71

Having faith often means doing what others see as crazy. Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers. pp. 114-115

What are you doing right now that requires faith? p. 124

But God doesn't call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn't come through. p. 124

I've made it a commitment to consistently put myself in situations that scare me and require God to come through. When I survey my life, I realize that those times have been the most meaningful and satisfying of my life. They were the times when I truely experienced life and God. p. 169

I always want this to be the greatest message I'll preach in case I'm not here to give another one.

To order this book click here!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Daniel Fast for Spiritual Breakthrough

My wife and I decided to submit to a Daniel Fast from February 1st through February 21st. A Daniel Fast is abstaining from certain "party" foods. Things like meat, sweets, caffeine, etc. It was a blessing for us. The purpose of the Fast is to draw closer to God and to have a prayer project. We decided we would have three prayer projects for each day of the week. We divided the daily projects into Church, Sunday School, and Personal. We purposed to pray together each day for the three requests on our pray list for that day. Overall we had twenty-one prayer projects. It was a sweet time of growing in our relationship with our Father. A side benefit was better health and a weight loss. We have determined to continue to eat healthy and to lose weight. One book that was helpful in this fast was Elemer Towns' The Daniel Fast for a Spiritual Breakthrough. Dr. Towns, cofounder of Liberty University, has lots of practical information in his book as well as recipes in the back. He has a devotional for each of the twenty-one days. He also encourages you to start and end the fast on the dates you decide at the beginning of the fast. We also used Susan Gregory's website and information. We actually held to Susan's suggestions for the foods to abstain. You can find her website here, Daniel Fast. The next time we submit to the fast we will buy Susan's book and Kristen Feola's book. You can sign up for a daily devotional on Susan's website. I had no idea how many people have been through the Daniel Fast. I first learned of the Daniel Fast through my niece's church. To read of Daniel's fast look at Daniel 1:8-12 (ten-day fast) and Daniel 10:3 (twenty-one day fast). I trust you will enjoy the quotes from Elmer Towns' book:

So Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies (see Daniel 1:8). Was this a choice for good health, or to keep his body separated to God? It was both! Daniel wanted God's will for his body. And isn't that what you want for your body, too, during your Daniel Fast?

The Daniel Fast is not primarily a dietary choice; it is a spiritual vow to God. you may lose weight during your fast, or you may lower your blood pressure or cholesterol, and while these results are good, they are not the primary focus of the fast. Indeed, you are fasting for a spiritual focus. Improved health is always a secondary result of doing the Daniel Fast. Look at what happens when you begin a Daniel Fast. First, you reevaluate your life in light of God's perspective. Second, you break some bad eating habits, which will begin to restore you to better health. pp. 21-22

. . . many people who participate in a Daniel Fast testify that they are closer to God when they fast than any other time in their life. Why? Because they are obeying God every minute of the day. When you're fasting, you're aware of your stomach all the time, which makes you aware of the reason you are abstaining from food-intimacy with God-as you fast.

A final reason to choose to fast is that it leads to worshiping God. When you fast and pray, you honor the Lord with your body and soul. p. 22

. . . two questions you should be asking yourself are the same: (1) Why am I fasting? and (2) What do I want to accomplish with this fast? Technically, you should be fasting for focus and commitment to a project or for an answer to prayer. p. 23

The Daniel Fast is a time vow, so you need to decide ahead of time how long you will fast and then be firm to that commitment to the end. p. 23

. . . begin on time, keep the promise to fast the entire time, and end on time.

The Daniel Fast is also a discipline vow. You strengthen your character in every area of your life when you fulfill your Daniel Fast. When you take control of your body-your outer self-you begin to take control of your inner character. You discipline your body to glorify the Lord. pp. 23-24

As you discipline your body, you are disciplining your prayer life. p. 24

The Daniel Fast is a partial vow. You don't give up all food (an absolute fast), nor do you go on just a juice fast (a normal fast). Instead, you omit certain foods that you would typically eat or eliminate certain meals for a specified period of time. This may include omitting one or two meals a day for a certain length of time, or it may involve omitting other practices.

The Daniel Fast is a healthy vow. You abstain from "party" food, or junk food. Usually, you don't eat between meals, and you only eat healthy foods.

Finally the Daniel Fast is a lifestyle vow. When Daniel asked permission to avoid the king's delicacies for 10 days, he put his whole life into his chosen diet. Then, if he continued to look "healthy," he could continue following his own diet. p. 24

Take note that nowhere in the Bible are believers commanded to observe a Daniel Fast. We have been given freedom to eat; and we eat healthy to stay healthy. p. 25

As you enter the Daniel Fast, it is easy to focus on the food you give up or the activities you surrender. It's easy to focus on your abstinence and not on the basic purpose for which you are fasting. But remember that God is not impressed just because you stop eating altogether or you stop eating certain foods, even if you do it for your health. God is not impressed with the outward actions of your fast. The secret of any fast is not what you keep from entering the stomach but what comes out of the heart. God is primarily concerned with your inner person, not your outer body. p. 33

The basic principles of discipleship were not denial or self discipline, but following Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "If any one desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). This involves turning to the Lord and putting Him first in your life, and then turning away from anything that keeps you from following Him.

There are three words in this verse that should influence your Daniel Fast. First, the word "deny" means that you should get rid of anything that hinders your relationship with Christ. You must get off the throne of your heart, and Jesus must sit there and control what you eat and drink. The second word is "daily." Following Jesus means 24-7 dedication, so your Daniel Fast requires a 10-day or 21-day vow accompanied with continuous prayer. The third word is "follow." Just as Jesus fasted in preparation for His spiritual work, so must you follow Jesus' example with a Daniel Fast for your spiritual vow. pp. 34-35

Humility is an interesting word. Webster says it means, "to reduce oneself to the lowest position in one's own eyes, and, or the eyes of another." It comes from the word humus, which means "from the earth." Humus is that rich organic soil that is formed from the partial decomposition of plant or animal matter. Look deeply: the rich soil that produces new life comes from death of other matter. So when you "crucify" yourself-or you die-you produce an experience that gives new life from God.

Doesn't our life represent a seed that can be planted by God to give life to others? Remember, Jesus said, "Except a seed is planted in the ground and dies, it abides alone: but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit" (John 12:24 ELT). So when we crucify ourselves, others prosper and live.

So our life must be open to the renewing rain and the richness of the soil and the energy of the sun to produce new life in us and others. But that new life is brought forth with humus, or the death of self.

Trying to become humble is like trying to go to sleep. The harder you try, the more difficult it becomes. But when we surrender to sleep, like surrendering to the Lord, what we seek will happen. You can't deliberately pray for humility, nor can you work it up, it's a gift from God. p. 132

What did Paul mean, "Aspire to lead a quiet life" (1 Thess. 4:11)? What did God mean, "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength" (Isa. 30:15)? There is power in silence before God. It's not the absence of words that gives us strength; it's God's presence that empowers us. David wrote, "Truly my soul silently waits for God; From Him comes my salvation" (Ps. 62:1). This probably didn't mean original salvation from sin, but our daily salvation from the domination of sin.

We don't learn as much when we're talking as when we're listening. So we need to kneel quietly in God's presence to learn some of the better lessons in life. p. 148

Make sure the fast goal is God's project and not your personal project, p. 157

The emphasis is not on your begging God to come help you win the battle. No, that's the wrong emphasis. It's not even getting God on your side; it's you getting on God's side. p. 157

To order this book click here!

The Family

The Family
Braves Game 2012